April 27, 2017

Facebook started 2017 with a road trip down South to meet with local journalists. As those trips continue, the social media giant announced another level of in-real-life engagement on Thursday — a training and support pilot program for local legacy and online newsrooms.

Through a partnership with the Knight Foundation (which funds my position covering local news) Facebook will work with newsrooms that are part of Local Independent Online News Publishers, the Institute for Nonprofit News, the Detroit Journalism Cooperative and newsrooms that are part of last year’s and this year’s Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Dallas Morning News, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the Miami Herald.

The training will be online and in person and will result in a jointly published report with case studies and recommendations. A Facebook spokesperson declined to say how much it was spending on the program. (Full disclosure: Poynter and Facebook teamed up to launch a training certificate for journalists on the social network. Poynter also hosts the International Fact-checking Network, which provides guidelines that third-party fact-checkers on Facebook follow.)

Related Training: Using Facebook as a Reporting Tool

Facebook’s relationship with local news is one of several ongoing storylines about the social network’s impact on journalism. Others include its strategies for fighting fake news and an unexplained decrease of publishers’ reach on its News Feed.

So is this partnership what local news organizations actually want from Facebook?

“While there are significant challenges in local news sites’ relationship with Facebook, they have definitely opened a dialogue in recent months that’s encouraging to see,” said Matt DeRienzo, the executive director of Local Independent Online News, a network of digital publishers. “They seem to be listening, and there are a number of things they could do that would have negligible impact on their bottom line or strategy that would have a significant impact on the business models of local news outlets,” he said.

Kim Fox, managing editor of audience at the Philadelphia Media Network, can’t speak for all local newsrooms. But for Philly, this is a start.

“I don’t want to hear ‘do more video, do more Instant Articles’ as a canned answer,” she said. “I need to hear feedback that is specialized to my market and to my newsroom.”

A good partnership with local newsrooms has to show a commitment to the sustainment of the business, and Facebook has to build products with a reliable revenue stream in mind, Fox said. She doesn’t expect them to go out and get local newsrooms subscribers, but she does expect them to think about what local newsrooms need and develop products with them in mind.

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Poynter spoke with Aine Kerr, manager of global journalism partnerships at Facebook, via email about the new program and what else Facebook might do with local newsrooms.

Tell us about this plan. How is it different than Facebook’s recent roadtrips to cities around the U.S.?

“Facebook Journalism Project: News Day” events allow members of the Facebook, Instagram and CrowdTangle partnerships teams to visit a lot of publishers regionally for a day of best practices, product updates and expert help desks. These events bring many newsrooms together for [one-on-one] meetings, open discussions and product feedback.

The Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative involves a broader group beyond Facebook employees and brings together a variety of organizations to collaborate on an ongoing basis throughout the year. It will tackle shared goals, working together on ideas that will help their newsrooms connect with local audiences in meaningful ways.

We’ll provide product and strategic support along the way to support these shared goals. We will work with a group of highly engaged newsroom leaders who have a teaching role in their newsrooms and are passionate about how to innovate with Facebook and build an understanding of the platform’s tools, trainings and suite of products for news.

Ultimately, we hope to share new learnings and best practices with local newsrooms across the U.S.

This is a mix of local, legacy organizations in the process of becoming digital and local nonprofits that were born digital. How are their needs different?

We have spent the last few months talking to these local newsrooms to listen and understand what their needs are, and as a result we feel like we have a clear grasp on what they need to be impactful. Some are interested in audience engagement, others are interested in monetization.

Others just want help getting their journalists onto Facebook to share stories and engage directly with their local community. We want to work with these newsrooms to help them discover content on Facebook which they can then turn into stories, use it as a platform to tell stories with Facebook Video, Live and Instant Articles and use the platform to build an audience around these stories.

What will newsrooms learn and get from this that they can’t learn elsewhere?

There’s so much we can learn when we collaborate around shared goals. What works for one local newsroom can help shape strategy for others. If there are common barriers to success, we can work together to find solutions. This is going to be an opportunity for these newsrooms to access and be exposed to Facebook’s cross-disciplinary teams including partnerships, sales, product, partner engineering, and more that can speak to the products tools and services that we have built for newsrooms.

Equally, it’s an opportunity for Facebook’s teams to learn from local newsrooms what we should be thinking about when it comes to product development. Not only will these participating local newsrooms benefit from this, but we’ll publish case studies, updates and learnings from this work for others to learn from as well.

Facebook has reached out to local newsrooms this year, and many are taking advantage of tools like CrowdTangle, but none of that stops big dips in traffic that happen regularly that no one really understands. Will this program deal with that problem?

We’re committed to being transparent with publishers about the changes we make to News Feed — providing explanations of any ranking changes and sharing more about how we work.

Facebook seems to be getting closer to local newsrooms and is aware of their importance. Is finding a way to help them make some money on Facebook on the horizon?

We know that monetization won’t be a one-size-fits-all for publishers, and we’re committed to supporting a variety of publishers’ business models. Since launching the Facebook Journalism Project, we’ve made announcements on this front including: video monetization updates, bringing branded content to more Pages, adding more flexibility to ads in Instant Articles, and most recently launching Call-to-Action Units for Instant Articles. We’ll keep working on monetization options for publishers, and look forward to continuing to collaborate with them on ways that we can support their needs.

What do local news organizations you’re interacting with actually want from Facebook? Does this partnership address that?

In the last few months, we’ve heard from newsrooms that these organizations want to work more closely with Facebook on collaboration around product development which includes monetization strategies, as well as tools and trainings. As we said when we first announced the Facebook Journalism Project in January, we want to get as much input from newsrooms and journalists as possible, working together to shape what local news on Facebook could look like, and this is a direct result of that.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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